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The Attraction of the Repellant Cross
March 17, 2024, 12:00 AM

5th Sunday in Lent

Two themes vie for attention in the readings: divine forgiveness (with attention paid to the human sinfulness that makes it necessary!) and the cross’s mysterious power.

Jeremiah prophesies of God’s desire and ability to wipe the slate clean and to come even closer than before, in the form of a “new covenant” with God’s people. But how is this possible? God and God’s people were already as close as husband and wife—one flesh! Even so, God promises to forgive the divorce and forge an even more profound unity and intimacy with God’s people.

The composers of both psalm alternatives (51 and 119) sing of the relief and joy of being forgiven and then taught, sustained, and sanctified by God’s Spirit. Both psalmists testify that relief and joy more than balance the agony of confessing their unworthiness and brokenness and their own culpability for both.

In the gospel, Jesus plants the image of the (dead) seed coming to life and bearing fruit, as a metaphor for his own crucifixion and being “lifted up” on our behalf. The Greeks ask to see Jesus. We might paraphrase Jesus’ oblique response this way: “If you want to see me, first look down into the dirt; then look up to the cross.”

The connection point for the two themes is deep (even intimate) service to the other. Jeremiah tells us that God will come closer to us than a husband to a wife—directly into our hearts! Deep in this mystery we will be known—truly known even beyond our fear of being known—and forgiven and loved. Jesus then promises that through his life in us, we will be drawn into a similar emptying of selves as we enter richly into the lives of others so that they too will know the joy and relief of being known and loved. In this way, confession leads finally to mission.